The people of Cambodia

Despite their recent tragic history, the Khmer are a welcoming and cheery bunch. They love striking up conversations and find out all about you. It’s time to find out a bit more about them…

Population

There’s 14,952,665 (CIA July 2012 est.) of these cheery people living in this wonderful country. In 2006 the count stopped at 13,881,427.
The population is growing steadily at a rate of 1.687% per year (compared to The Netherlands at just 0.452% per year).
Estimates for this country take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, lower population growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected (CIA)

Ethnic Groups


Khmer

Cambodia’s largest ethnic group consists of Khmers, descendants of the people who built the historical Angkor Empire and once ruled over most of SE Asia.

Khmer girl
Khmer woman
Khmer lady

The Khmers see themselves as one race, but they can be divided into three groups:

Khmer Kandal are central Cambodians, their language is Khmer;

Khmer Surin are ethnic Khmers who are located in the north of Cambodia and in parts of what is now Thailand, but used to be part of the Khmer Empire. They speak their own dialect and often Thai as well;

Khmer Krom are ethnic Khmers who are located in the South-East of Cambodia and in parts of what is now South Vietnam, and also used to be part of the Khmer Empire. They speak their own dialect and Vietnamese.
It is estimated that roughly 13% of the Khmer were eradicated during the Khmer Rouge ruling.

Vietnamese

Of the minority groups, the Vietnamese is the largest, with an estimated population of 2 million. While speaking the same language, their culture is historically influenced by Chinese culture, whereas the Khmer culture is influenced by Indian culture.
The Vietnamese population was entirely eradicated during the Khmer Rouge ruling.

Chinese

There are an estimated 1.2 million people of Chinese descent in Cambodia, the majority active in commerce. Intermarriage between Khmer and Chinese is common. Now the fastest growing ethnic group in Cambodia, the Chinese population was halved during the Khmer Rouge era.

Cham

The Cham are descended from the Malay people of Champa, a former kingdom centered on the southern coast of present-day Vietnam. The Cham that live in Cambodia are mostly Sunni Muslim, whereas the Cham that have remained in Vietnam practice Shivaite Hinduism.

The population is roughly one third of a million. Primarily fishermen, most live near rivers and on the Southern coast of Cambodia. The Mountain Cham have settled in the Northeastern provinces of the country.
Almost a third of the Cham population was eradicated during the Khmer Rouge ruling.

Khmer Leu

Khmer Leu (Highland Khmer) is a collective name for several mountain tribes, the majority of them living in the Northeastern provinces of Ratanakiri, Moldulkiri and Stung Treng. They are the most ancient inhabitants of Cambodia.
Due to their isolation, they have held on to their pre-Indian heritage. The Khmer Rouge forced “Khmerisation” upon them, but soon after the Khmer Rouge fell, the various tribes went back to their old traditions.

Besides the larger tribes of Jarai, Tampuon, Kreung, Phnong and Kuy, each with a population between 15.000 and 20.000, there is a handful of even smaller tribes, some as small as 100 people.

Ethnic Groups in Cambodia
Ethnic groups in Cambodia

Further reading: The Survival of Cambodia’s Ethnic Minorities and Ethnic groups in Cambodia.

Online research about this subject showed highly varying numbers for each ethnic group. I have mostly used figures from Wikipedia as other sources are pretty outdated.

Age

Due to the Khmer Rouge atrocities and current insufficient medical care, the number of people in the age group of 65 years and older has been strongly reduced. The population under 15 years of age is very large compared to a first world country. In this article, I compare the population of Cambodia with the population of The Netherlands as both countries have roughly the same size population.


Cambodian age distrubution
Graph: age structure in Cambodia (in % of the total population)

Cambodian age distrubution
Chart: age structure in Cambodia (in % of the total population)


These figures from 2011 show certain improvement when compared to the figures from 2006. Just five years, but the population under 14 has decreased from 35.6%, while the population over 65 has increased from 3.4%.

Other data that shows that the Cambodian population is very young, is the median age: the age that divides a population into two numerically equal groups; that is, half the people are younger than this age and half are older. It might be worth noting that this figure lies well below 20 years for a large number of African nations.


Cambodian median age
Graph: median age in Cambodia (in years of age)

Cambodian median age
Chart: median age in Cambodia (in years of age)

Birth & Death


Birth rate

The world’s birth rate – the number of childbirths per 1,000 people per year – is on a slow decline. Cambodia’s birth rate peaked to 57 births per 1,000 people in the period between 1975 and 1980 (UN).


Cambodian birth rate per 1000 people
Graph: birth rate per 1,000 people per year

Cambodian birth rate per 1000 people
Chart: birth rate per 1,000 people per year

Death rate

Presumably partially caused by the low number of people above the age of 65 in Cambodia, the annual death rate of this country is average if compared to the rest of the world. During the Khmer Rouge era, these numbers must have been at least double that. Ben Kiernan concludes in his book ‘The Pol Pot Regime’ that the death toll during the Khmer Rouge era (1975-1979) must have been around 21%. Bruce Sharp has written an extensive article on the death toll during the Khmer Rouge era called ‘Counting Hell’.


Cambodian death rate per 1000 people
Graph: death rate per 1,000 people per year

Cambodian death rate per 1000 people
Chart: death rate per 1,000 people per year

Life expectancy at birth

The average number of years to be lived by a group of people born in the same year, if mortality at each age remains constant in the future. Life expectancy at birth is also a measure of overall quality of life in a country and summarizes the mortality at all ages.
Since the Khmer Rouge era, Cambodia’s life expectancy has swiftly increased:


Cambodian life expectancy at birth
Graph: life expectancy in years

Cambodian life expectancy at birth
Chart: life expectancy in years

Fertility rate

The fertility rate is the number of children per woman. Fertility is highest in the Northern provinces of Moldulkiri and Ratanakiri, where women have an average of 4.5 children, and lowest in the capital Phnom Penh where women have an average of 2.0 children. (2010, UN)


Cambodian fertility rate
Graph: fertility rate in number of children per woman

Cambodian fertility rate
Chart: fertility rate in number of children per woman

Infant mortality rate

The infant mortality rate is the number of deaths of infants under one year old per 1,000 live births. This rate is often used as an indicator of the level of health in a country.

Infant mortality in Cambodia is twice as high among children whose mothers have no schooling compared to those with secondary or higher education (72 versus 31). The association with wealth is even stronger. There are 77 deaths per 1,000 live births among infants from the poorest households compared to 23 deaths per 1,000 live births among infants from the richest households.

Mortality rates are much higher in rural than urban areas. Infant mortality, for example, is 64 deaths per 1,000 live births in rural areas compared to only 22 in urban areas.


Cambodian infant mortality rate
Graph: infant mortality rate per 1000 live births

Cambodian infant mortality rate
Chart: infant mortality rate per 1000 live births


by Rikitikitavi




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